One of the most amazing things humans do is use language to communicate. People have developed languages over many tens or hundreds of thousands of years, resulting in many very different tongues being spoken around the world today. How did our ability to use language evolve? Where and when was it first used?
One idea is that the first languages were representative sounds that people linked to concepts. Eventually these meaningful sounds grew more diverse and structurally intricate as they evolved into more complex speech.
This idea brings with it a major question: Were the first sounds made by humans arbitrary and random, or were they consistently applied to certain symbols and concepts? A psychological phenomenon called the Bouba–Kiki effect has been used to help answer this question. In this effect, people are shown a pointy picture or a curvy, bubbly shape and asked to identify it as "Bouba" or "Kiki," even though those are both nonsense words. They are asked to do the same with a pointy, sharper shape. A surprising number of people identify the round shape as "Bouba" and the pointy shape as "Kiki" although they have not been told what the words mean. Will you observe the Bouba–Kiki effect or will you have the results of a 50–50 random-chance event?